By Jennifer Clampet (USAG Wiesbaden)August 13, 2009
WIESBADEN, Germany - The competitive world of track and field vaulted itself into the minds of local youth earlier this month.
Children in Wiesbaden's Child, Youth and School Services' School-Age Services Program stared up at their guest speakers Olympian Paul Terek and heptathlon athlete Lela V. Nelson as the duo ran a question and answer session at the Teen Center Aug. 6.
How old are you'
What do you do'
When did you start running'
And just as the questions died down, another one shot from the back, "Do you make any money'"
The question stirred laughter among the members of the U.S. National Track and Field Team crowded into the room.
"We all had our chances to be professional athletes," said Terek. "But we chose to do something we really liked to do. You can't go half a different ways. You have to choose one thing and go one way."
For Terek that one way was track and field.
Nelson and decathlon athlete Chris Randolph noted that training for events takes dedication.
Decathlon competitions include 100-meter, 400-meter, 1500-meter, 110-meter hurdles, shot put, javelin, high jump, long jump, pole vault and discus events.
And while most of the U.S. national track team members started their running careers in middle school and high school, Tom Pappas said he had no such aspirations.
The 2003 world decathlon champion and three-time Olympian described himself as an average athlete in high school. Pappas, now 32, said it wasn't until his sophomore year in college that he actually started to think that running would take him somewhere.
The USA teams stopped at the U.S. Army Garrison - visiting with Soldiers at the dining facility and signing autographs at the Wiesbaden Fitness Center - before heading to Marburg for the 16th annual Thorpe Cup competition.
Days later, Aug. 8 -9, Pappas won the Thorpe Cup competition and led the USA men's team to a victory over Germany. The Thorpe Cup is known by some as the world's most important nation-versus-nation team decathlon - a meet between American and German men and women teams. The U.S. men's teams have won 13 of the 16 competitions.
Meet and greets at Wiesbaden garrison facilities were intended to help drum up support for the American athletes at the German-hosted competition, said meet director Hermann Holzfuss.
At the Wiesbaden Fitness center, 11-year-old Madison Ralph wove her way into the crowd of athletes looking up at each with a pen, a book and a smile. As the softball-, soccer- and swimming-loving pre-teen corralled autographs from the Olympic hopefuls, Ralph admitted she's never participated in track and field events. But meeting the athletes was definitely "cool" she said, adding, "They're taller than I thought they would be."